Learn Together With the Yeshiva – Berachot Chapter 1

Lesson #8 – Content and Questions
Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein
The Conservative Yeshiva

Our studies, this week, are composed of a number of short sugiyot, most of which use as their jumping off point meimrot concerned with prayer and/or one’s personal relationship with God.


View the English text for Berachot 12b-13b

View the Hebrew text for Berachot 12b-13b

Guide Questions and Issues

Part 1

This first sugya concerns a meimra in the name of Rav which asserts an obligation to pray for acquaintances in need of prayer.

1. Rav asserts an obligation to pray for acquaintances in need of mercy. Anyone who refrains from doing so is a sinner.

As a proof text, he quotes from the prophet, Samuel’s closing address. Look up the verse in its biblical context. What is its message? How is it used in the context of Rav’s statement?

2. This meimra asserts an even greater obligation to pray for the well-being of sages in need of mercy.

3. The Talmud searches for a basis for this greater obligation.

4. In this step, the Talmud tests a verse to see if it can be used as a proof for Rava’s teaching. Note here the use of the word “ אילימא ”. This word is an indicator that this answer will ultimately be rejected.

The verse discussed here comes from the story of King Saul and the priests of Nob. Read the story (1 Samuel 22:6-19) What does the verse used by the Talmud mean in its own context? How does the Talmud use it?

5. The Talmud rejects the use of this verse. On what grounds? (In Talmudese, this kind of rejection is called a “ חילוק – a distinction.) What distinction is being made here?

6. The Talmud chooses another verse as the proof text. What is the original context of the verse in Psalms? Why was this verse chosen? Is it a better choice? [A piece of rabbinic lore. This prayer of David on behalf of his enemies, according to the sages, was for twoof David’s generals: Doeg and Ahitophel, both of whom betrayed him. According to rabbinic legend, both of them were big Talmidei Hachamim – sages, even though they were also sinners.)

Part 2

1. This sugya is also founded on a meimra in the name of Rav. In this teaching, Rav makes a hyperbolic statement about the efficacy of teshuva -– repentance, basing his statement on a verse from Ezekiel.

Look up the verse from Ezekiel. Again, whatis its meaning in context? What is its message? Does that message apply here inthis sugya?

2. Another “hiluk”! Why does the Talmud reject the use of the Ezekiel verse as proof of Rav’s message?

3. The Talmud takes a number of verses from the story of King Saul’s conversation with the prophet, Samuel’s ghost as proof instead of the verse from Ezekiel. Again, read these verses in their biblical context. What is it talking about there? How is it applied here? Is this a better proof than the Ezekiel verse? Why do you think it was chosen over the Ezekiel verse?

4. Here, too, the Talmud opts to bring another proof. This one seems to me the most obscure of all. This verse describes Saul’s ignoble end at the hands of the Gibeonites. How do the sages turn this verse around to make it a worthy proof verse?

Part 3

1. Here we have another meimra.This one tells us that the sages thought of including the story of Balaam and Balak in the recitation of the Shma. This strikes us as strange but… the meimra also gives us the reason why they did not include it, namely, it be a bother to the congregation because of its length. (This reason will make shul goers everywhere happy and will serve as ammunition for those that think the rabbi’s sermon is too long.)

2. The Talmud now wants to examine what might make Parshat Balak of such consequence that the sages might want to include it in the Shma.

The Talmud raises the possibility that it might be included because it alludes to the redemption from Egypt but quickly rejects this by noting that this does not distinguish it from any number ofother passages in the Torah.

3. Another try! I bet younever would have thought of this verse. Look it up. What is it talking about in context? And how might it serve as a reason for including Parshat Balak in the Shma?

4. Great now that that is resolved – why not include it in an attenuated form?

5. The Talmud resolves the kushiya by quoting a law that we do not read sections of the Torah if they were not designated as such by Moses. This principle is not clear and its use is not explicit but it works here to explain a practice which probably was already not a part of the liturgy.

Part 4

1. We open with the question wehave all been waiting for – namely, why do recite the last paragraph of the Shma which deals with tzitzit.

2. In this meimra – teshuva,we are given a list of good reasons. Any counters in the audience. How many reasons are given? How many were supposed to be given? A prize for the best explanation of the discrepancy.

3. In this shealah, the Talmud outlines proof verses from the paragraph on tzitzit, for three of the more obvious reasons on the list but then asks for proofs for some of the less obvious reasons.

4. As an teshuva, the Talmud brings a baraita which includes proof for the remainder of the reasons.

What seems clear from this over-abundant list is that the mention of the redemption from Egypt seemed insufficient for some and that the sages felt compelled to “go the extra yard” to provide a rationale for including this paragraph in the Shma.


End of Course, Go Back To Descriptions